13 Ways to Get OUT of Your Writerly Funk

FUNKSometimes we have a retreat, and we want to write ALLLLLLL the words ALLLLL day, but we get there, and… our brains don’t cooperate.

Sometimes we’re trying to finish a project over several months time, and it’s just not…happening.

 

Here are few tips to help you reset and start writing again:

1. Take a break. I know there are a TON of writers who say you have to write every day. You do not have to write every day. And most importantly, you need to not feel guilty about taking breaks. (If you’re at a retreat, don’t be afraid to step away from the computer for a while).

2. Remember that publishing is not personal. Sometimes passes (the nice way to say rejections) can get you down, but you HAVE to keep in mind that it’s the RIGHT project, in front of the RIGHT person, at the RIGHT time. That’s a lot of things that have to fall into place for a YES. Move forward. Prove them wrong.

3. Sometimes we have this precious chunk of time – a couple hours with a babysitter, or away from work, or at a writing retreat, and the words just aren’t coming. Remember there are a TON of non-writing things you can do to move your MS forward. Character sketches, character and setting pictures, storyboards, use a pacing or plotting tool to set up where your story is going next… Just because you’re not putting WORDS into your story, doesn’t mean you’re not putting WORK into your story.

4. Pick ONE thing you know is coming up in your story, and write that – even if it doesn’t come next, which brings me to…

5. Don’t be afraid to write out of order. Now, if you write the ending early on, chances are you’ll have to redo it when you get there, but it gives you SOMETHING to write. Sometimes writing ANYTHING will lubricate that sticky brain.

6. THEATER EXERCISES! Look up breathing, and characterization exercises. Getting into your character’s head can be a brilliant way to unlock those words, which leads me to…

7. Write something unrelated from your MC’s point of view. Maybe an essay on their thoughts after the end of the novel. Maybe an essay or their thoughts on one of the things you’ve put in your story to torture them.

8. Ask yourself, Did I make this big enough? The plot, the plot points, my main character – will be people be rooting for this to work out? Is there something else I can do?

9. Set the mood: Gum, snacks, drinks, music, smells… Maybe go a step further and pick stuff your MC would like.

10. Prep before your writing time. Try to think ahead…

11. Set a timer – YOU HAVE TO WRITE ANYTHING FOR XX MINUTES, and then you can break.

12. MOVE YOUR BODY. I promise that moving your body, lubricates your mind. Yoga, walking, stretching, running, swimming, biking… Bonus if it’s something your MC would like too 😉

13. DON’T PANIC. Finding yourself in a funk happens to everyone 🙂

HAPPY WRITING!!

~ Jolene

17361785_1313033622107898_5983686946276267719_nJolene Perry writes YA fiction for AW Teen and Simon Pulse. She writes about writing on BEEN WRITING? And you can stalk her on her website HERE. She’s also the vice-chair for the LDStorymakers Conference. YOU SHOULD COME…. Join the Tribe…

 

 

Focus

I have a slight (okay, huge) problem with staying focused on tasks that I don’t want to do. Sometimes it’s because I find a task boring–like housework. Or it’s repetitive, or I don’t see the point, or . . . I love it, and I find it interesting, and I want to do it, buuuuuuuut it’s hard.

Writing, you guys. Writing is hard. I love writing, but it’s hard. So hard. It is, I might even  go so far as to say, quite difficult.

Whenever I get stuck for words, or I’m not quite sure how I want to go about writing the next scene, that’s it, my brain’s like “this is HARD,” and I’m off clicking on social media, checking my texts, getting up to grab a snack I don’t need, etc. But I’ve been trying a few things to help with this problem, and I thought I’d share them with you in case you have a similar issue.

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1. Meditation

Meditation is basically just training your brain to focus, and you don’t have to do it for very long each day. I’ve been using an app called Headspace to help me out. It does require a subscription to be able to use all of it, but the Take-Ten (10 minute) beginner/training sessions are free. There are also other apps out there–a quick search in your app store will bring up many. But you don’t even need an app for the basics. Just find a quiet, comfortable spot (sitting, preferably, so you don’t get too relaxed and fall asleep) and focus on your breathing. Count your breaths in your head, if that helps. And whenever you notice that your mind is wandering (and it will), just gently acknowledge that and bring it back to focus on your breaths again. I try to do this before I sit down to write, and it really helps a lot.

2. Physical Activity

Again, it doesn’t take much. A brisk walk or some yoga, or even just dropping to the floor and doing a few pushups can help get the blood flowing to your brain and increase your ability to concentrate. I will often do some stretches or pushups between writing sprints.

3. Less Caffeine

Wait . . . WHAT?!

Yes, I know. I’m a writer. Don’t writer’s practically bleed caffeine? I used to, but I just can’t do it anymore. Too much caffeine sends my brain into hyper drive, and makes it more difficult for me to reign it in. I do need some in the morning, however, to jumpstart my day. so I’ve started making my morning cup with one scoop of caffeinated grounds, and one scoop of decaf. That combo is perfect for me. You might need to do some adjusting to figure out the right balance for you.

4. Set up a Permanent Writing Space

. . . and be consistent about writing there. I’ve had a writing desk set up for quite a while, actually, but the couch is so comfy, you know? And so, until recently, I rarely ever wrote at my desk, preferring my laptop, a cozy blanket, and my sofa. It’s no wonder writing often made me sleepy. As soon as I lost focus, I’d often opt for a nap (and no, this has nothing to do with the reduction in caffeine–couches just make me want to nap no matter what, so don’t even go there.) Not only that, but the living room is where we watch TV and play games, and mine’s connected to an open kitchen where I can see all the dishes that are piling up, not to mention mail and papers and . . . you see what I’m getting at? It’s distracting because it’s associated with many different things, and they’re all competing for my attention.  My writing desk, however, is tucked away in this weird little nook in the hallway that the builders thought needed to be there for some reason, and it’s away from the chaos of the rest of the house. Everything on and around my desk reminds me either of my writing, or the things that have inspired my writing (like my T.A.R.D.I.S. and my Mulder and Scully Pop figurines.) If I consistently choose to write at my desk, my brain will associate that spot with writing only. And so far, it’s working really well.

So those are the main things that have helped me focus and stay on task as a writer. I hope you find them helpful too, and if you happen to have any other tips, I’d love it if you’d share them in the comments.

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File Jan 15, 5 15 03 PM.jpegWhen she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

Crush Your New Year’s Writing Goals

Every year, I make a list of New Year’s Goals. Yes, Goals. I don’t call them resolutions, because that just seems too concrete and causes too much pressure, setting me up for failure from the very start. Still, even then, some of my goals pan out . . . aaand some of them don’t. But I’ve started to notice a pattern throughout these successes and failures, and I thought I’d share some tips with you that I will be trying this year in the hopes of producing a higher success rate, especially when it comes to writing goals.

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1) Focus on small habits, not the ultimate result.

I think the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to NOT make your resolution the same as your end-game, like “write a novel,” for instance. A goal like that is too daunting, too big. It’s also too vague. There are so many steps involved in writing a novel, and so many life “things” that can get in the way. Instead, a better goal would be to “write every day.” Don’t set a word count. Don’t say you’re going to write 1000 words every day. That’s also setting yourself up for failure. There will be days where you are definitely NOT going to make your word count goal, and you need to make room for that.

In fact, even better, don’t even set your goal to write every day. Make it something more tangible. Just say you’ll work on your novel every day. That can include anything: research, pre-writing, outlining, revising. . . .  And that’s GOOD, because all of those steps are going to get you closer to achieving that end goal that I told you to ignore: to write a full-blown novel. In order to reach that end goal, you need a game plan, so it’s that game plan you need to focus on the most. If your main goal focuses on the process of achieving that end result, you will be much more likely to reach it.

 

2) Failure isn’t an excuse for giving up

No matter what you do, there are probably going to be days, weeks, even months, where you are unable to work on your goals. Everyone goes through periods when they find it difficult to write. You might call that failure. “My goal was to write every day, but I haven’t written for weeks, therefore I’ve failed, therefore I might as well quit.” No! No no no no no. Don’t quit. Just start a-new. Start where you left off. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. If you quit, then you’ve failed. But if you can accept that you’ve had a set-back and then pick yourself up and get back to work, you’ll know you have what it takes to succeed.

 

3) Flexibility is Key

Remember that a year is a long time. Things change. You change. The goals that you set in January may no longer apply in July. And that’s okay! I like to reassess my goals every few months to see what’s working, what’s not, and to think about what I need to do differently. It’s not failing or giving up if you decide that you need to take a different path. The point of a New Year’s goal is to improve yourself. Or to change yourself. Or to finally get the thing done that you’ve been wanting to get done. And in order to do any of those things without going crazy, you need to embrace flexibility. Go with the flow. If you don’t take a rigid stance, you’ll be more likely to succeed. At least, that’s my experience. Maybe it’s just because I tend to rebel against rules and rigidity. You may be different. But either way, you need to be willing to reassess and change if need be.

 

I hope these tips have helped. I will fully admit that I haven’t had a great track record for meeting the goals I’ve set each year, but a lot of that is because I haven’t followed my own advice. This year, I plan to. And I hope it helps you as well as me. Happy New Year, and good luck!

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When she’s not writing, revising, or banging her head on the keyboard (it’s all the same, right?), Megan Paasch can be found playing her ukulele (badly), knitting (rarely anymore, unfortunately), or herding two amazing, but rowdy little boys (pretty much constantly) with her husband. A native to the Pacific Northwest, Megan earned her B.A. in History from the University of Washington. (Go Huskies!) Her favorite history subjects were, and still are, Women in History, the Tudors, and the Celts. You can read more about her here.

A Writer’s Promise To Myself

“I’ll be better tomorrow. I promise.”

Do you ever catch yourself saying this to yourself? Most often when we promise to be better, it’s because we feel like we let someone down in terms of behavior or other expectations.

Last month, I let myself down by not meeting my writing goals. Oh, I could justify this with excuses. I could pin my decline in productivity on an extra busy work schedule, on my kids’ extra busy after-school schedules, on the fact that hours seem to slip by with all of the other daily obligations that are a necessary part of life. I could blame it on emergencies, illnesses, and other interruptions that filled up what could have been good writing moments. I could blame it on my own choices in taking on new projects. But excuses won’t help me meet my writing goals. Only by owning up to my failure to put words on the page, and only by being willing to change that will I actually get those words onto the page. Excuses are diversions and distractions. I wanted to have a draft out to my CP’s by the end of September, and it didn’t happen.

I’ll be better tomorrow. I promise.

My “tomorrow” arrived in the middle of this month, when I told myself in a very firm voice that I needed to get out of my no-writing funk. NaNoWriMo is rapidly approaching, and I am determined to banish all of the excuses and again get down to business. I was meeting my word count goals before September, and I can get back into it again. It’s what I do. Excuses, begone! I am a writer! Yet when I opened my file each day, I stared at it and felt something heavy hold me back. The automatic connection that I used to have with my characters felt faraway and tenuous. I am a different person than I was six weeks ago and maybe I couldn’t tell their story exactly in the way that I’d originally planned. I was afraid that I could no longer do their story justice. Instead of writing, I focused on doubts and fears. But after taking today and the day before and many days before that to contemplate this, I know what I need to do. I’m committed to finishing this story, and so these are the writer’s promises to myself that will help me stay on track and be better:

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I promise to myself

  1. …that I’m experienced enough to acknowledge that life happens. Yes, life is busy, chaotic, and sometimes pulls me under, but I glean inspiration from my life. Experiencing emotions that range from frustration, stress, and anger to relief, joy, and love are the lessons I use to craft the emotional journey of my characters. Being mindful about my surroundings, textures, colors, and smells as the seasons change are the lessons that I use to build my story’s world. My crazy and beautiful life does not currently afford me the opportunity to write in solitude for hours at a time, but I need to experience all life has to offer in order for me to be a good writer.
  2. …that I’m strong enough to recognize and exert control over the things that are in my power. I do not need to respond to messages or emails right away just because my notifications are on (or better yet, I can turn them off). I do not need to get up and eat just because I happen to be writing at the kitchen table (even if there are lemon Oreos in the cupboard. They are merely delicious distractions). I can set rules in my home about when I require uninterrupted time to write (and I accept that this won’t be for hours and hours at a stretch). I promise to be mindful of the steps that I need for self-care, whether I am in full writing mode or not (and I shall be better about saying “no” if I need to). My top priorities lie with my family, my job, and my friends and support units, but as my writing is also a top priority, I can control certain things to help me get that writing done.
  3. …that I’m dedicated enough to finish this story. Writing is no cakewalk, and the process of drafting is particularly tough for me (but so is everything else about writing and publishing). I cannot fast-draft to save my life (Well, maybe I could if I was placed in an actual do-or-die scenario like in the Saw movies, but let’s not go there). I’m working on my sixth book now, and it feels no easier than when I wrote my first. However, I also know myself a lot better as a writer than when I first started out in this business (and I’m still learning, always learning), and no matter how hard it is to get to “the end,” I believe in myself and my characters enough to get it done. 

Lastly, I promise to myself that I’m realistic enough to know that there is always (99.99% of the time?) another tomorrow. You know, in case today doesn’t completely work out.

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helen

Helen Boswell loved to get lost in the pages of a story from the time she could sound out the words. She credits her dad, an avid fiction reader, with encouraging her to read ALL OF THE BOOKS on his shelves from the time she was a teenager. An author of both paranormal and contemporary romance, she loves to read and write characters that come to life with their beauty, flaws, and all. She is the author of the Mythology trilogy (MYTHOLOGY, THE WICKED, THE ETERNAL), and contemporary romances LOSING ENOUGH and SCARS RUN DEEP (coming soon). You can find out more about her writing life at www.helenboswell.com.

Lose the Muse and Write the Book

Few of us craft our novels in a cabin deep in the woods, toasted leaves dripping dew outside the window after a cleansing rain. No, most of us bang on sticky keys or scribble on notebooks in stolen moments during lunch breaks, on soccer fields while the kids play or on our morning train commutes to our jobs that pay the bills. Writing coaches often admonish us to kill our darlings. I’m asking you to kill your muse, too, or at least your fantasies about its necessity.

Some of the best writing insight I’ve received from successful authors has centered on discipline. During a workshop at Eckerd College Writers’ Conference, bestselling author Michael Koryta repeated the advice he’d been given by other literary greats to “keep your butt in the chair.” After a novel workshop with award-winning author Laura Lippman, I asked her how she found the time to write seven novels while working full-time as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. “Just like you pay yourself first by putting money in your 401k, pay yourself first with your writing time,” she said. “I got up early and wrote for two hours before I went to work.” Lippman released her 20th novel this year and now writes fiction full-time.

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Think of writing as your career. Even if you’re not getting paid for it. Yet. It’s not a hobby. It’s not the magic that springs from your muse. It’s your job. I worked as a television news reporter for ten years and I vividly remember my first live report for the ABC affiliate in West Palm Beach, Florida. A manatee got stuck in a drainage canal and I had to craft the story on the ride there, bouncing in the live truck, getting details by phone from the videographer who was already on the scene. Within minutes of arriving there, I went live and told the story. No muse. No special inspiration. Only the beep of the live truck mast rising. The producer talking in my ear. Just the realization that I had a job to do. So I did it.

Here are a few ways to stay on track with your writing discipline:

  • Set writing goals that are realistic for you. Make them tangible. My goal is to write 1,000 words every day.
  • Eliminate distractions. Facebook is still my kryptonite, but you can use online tools to block social media.
  • Find accountability partners and check in periodically to report on your writing progress.
  • Enter writing contests that force you to meet external deadlines.

If you’re like me, I suspect you sometimes feel like a fraud, an imposter posing as a real writer. One of your greatest fears is that a literary guru will rip off your mask and expose you as a charlatan. Those head games will stifle creativity and stunt your writing progress every time. It’s easier to hide behind the ephemeral, the fluidity of a muse that captures our imaginations with unexpected moments of brilliance. Without the scapegoat of an elusive muse, we’re left facing ourselves as real writers who must tap into our storytelling well every day and produce words on the page.

Novelist and non-fiction author Anne Lamott advises us to write “the shitty first draft.” She understands that the pursuit of perfection can paralyze writers to the point that we prefer to write nothing rather than something that fails to live up to what we imagined. I still agonize over every word, but I write on deadline just as I did during my news days.

Recently, I attended the Women’s Fiction Writers Association’s annual retreat in New Mexico, where I sat on a patio with an early breeze brushing my cheek, the sun climbing into the sky. With my laptop balanced on my knees, I breathed in the morning air and tapped on the keys. I’d never felt more writerly with nature as my muse guiding my fingers. Then I flew to Las Vegas for a work conference, inhaling recycled air on planes, attending medical association lectures with little sleep. I came home to Chicago to piles of dirty laundry, bills to pay and more work crises to manage. Still, I made time for my fiction writing. Not because I felt inspired. Not because I was answering the call of a muse. But because it’s my job. It’s what I do.

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o_mag_nov_realyou0710Nancy E. Johnson is a senior communications leader with an Emmy-nominated, award-winning journalism background. She contributed to O, the Oprah Magazine which published her personal essay in the November 2015 issue. Nancy serves as secretary for Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter and is an active member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. When she’s not reading, writing or pontificating about politics, she’s running and eating chocolate, sometimes at the same time. The Chicago native is writing her first novel.

Embracing the Past

For many, the first day of January is one of new beginnings, looking forward, anticipation. But I think our society has come to look forward so much that we forget there are literally two sides that we need to consider. As Encyclopedia Mythica explains,

“Janus is the Roman god of gates and doors, beginnings and endings, and hence represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions.”  

There is a tendency, however, of looking back and bemoaning how little we have accomplished. Todd Herman argues that one of the ways he can tell the difference between people who will have success and those who will spin their wheels forever without much progression is based on how they talk about their past experiences. You see, we have two choices. As I said at the beginning of the paragraph, we can bemoan what we don’t have yet. For instance, I have been writing whole-heartedly for five years. That’s half a decade. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a book with my name on it. I don’t even have a timeline of when that could happen. It’s very VERY easy to fall in the trap of looking at the accomplishments of people around me and feel like a loser.

But that self-pity doesn’t do me any good. It doesn’t change the future of my friends. And in fact, it makes me more vulnerable to becoming a person who I don’t really like. So, instead, I make myself look at the half of a decade in a different light. I know some amazing people because of my pursuit of publication. I’m starting this year as a board member for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association – a position I was elected into. I feel comfortable skipping beginning craft classes at workshops because I know a majority of what they will discuss there. I’ve discovered how fulfilling a life can be when an anxious pursuit of a dream, a craft, a goal and a creation can be. I know that there is more out there than the day in/day out repetition until I die.

And this blog! This blog is just over four years old, has over a dozen regular contributors of many walks of life and writing careers, has interviewed several agents through our Thinking in Threes feature, has had nearly 180,000 page views.

Because of all this, I’m able to keep moving forward with a similar intent. Because I’ve seen and interacted with people who tried and failed and failed and failed, I can talk myself out of my low point. I can think about moving forward because I’ve allowed myself to look back, to learn the lessons I needed to learn, to have built the resilience that life calls for.

And I have the experience to know that this time next year, I will have learned more – about writing and friendship and determination.

So, my friends, take some time this weekend to look back, focusing on how much you learned this year, who you were able to meet, how they helped you, how you helped them. Celebrate what 2015 was for you, then let those victories be the tailwinds that help you build momentum to an even better 2016.
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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter, where she also serves as a board member.

Ways to Get the Book Written

Sometimes writing is easy and the words just flow out onto the page. And sometimes . . . it’s not. Sometimes you have to push through when it seems like you’ve been working on the same paragraph for days and it’s just not getting better. It’s hard, it’s brutal, and you sometimes drop your laptop in the garbage and (temporarily) give up.

If you’re like me, you can’t ever leave your laptop in the garbage for long and you haul it out and keep trying. Over the years, I’ve found a few things that help me to keep trying and to keep pushing through the hard times. I don’t always do all of these and sometimes I have to fiddle with them to see what works for me the way my life is at the moment.

1.  Write every day.

This advice probably isn’t new to anyone, but getting into a daily habit of putting words on the page—even if it’s only a paragraph!—make it so much easier to stay in the habit of writing even when you might not be as enamored with your manuscript as you’d like.

Unfortunately, life doesn’t always allow for writing every day. When my kids were little, I found that if I missed a day (usually Monday because, well, Monday), I’d get discouraged and start missing other days. I had to be more flexible. So instead of trying to write every day and reaching a certain word count, I:

2. Set a weekly work count.

Most of the time, a weekly word count works much better for me than a daily word count. I don’t feel guilty when I miss a day because I know I can make it up later. Brandon Sanderson once said that he’d rather have a big chunk of time every other day to write than small chunks on a daily basis. Some writers do really well with small blocks of time, but others don’t. I tend to be someone who needs longer stretches of time. I take a while to adjust from real life to my story world, but once I’m there, I want to stay for longer than a couple minutes. But that’s just me. Every writer is different and needs to find the best way for them to write.

3. Be accountable to someone else.

Earlier this year I finished the first draft of a story I’d been trying to write for a long time. I’m usually a pretty fast drafter, but this one felt like slogging through waist-deep mud to get through it. My sister (probably tired of listening to me whine about it), told me to start emailing her every day what my word count was for that day. If I didn’t email her, she’d write to ask me about it.

And it worked. Having someone to report to helped so much, and it worked both ways (she also emailed me to let me know how her manuscript was going).

4. Find someone to encourage you.

One of the best ways to get through a rough writing patch is to have someone cheering for you, someone who loves your story, reads it as you go, and wants to see where it’s going, whether that’s a critique partner, a spouse, a friend, or whomever.

Unfortunately, as awesome as this is when it happens, it can sometimes have the opposite effect. Sometimes your critique group just won’t click with your story. Sometimes your friend really wants you to add a zombie-hunting, vampire-staking alien robot to your Regency romance and, well, it just doesn’t fit with the vision you have for your story.

It’s hard to keep going when someone you trust doesn’t like what you’ve written, but rewriting to try to fit someone else’s vision never works. Trust me on that.

5. Turn off the internet.

Seriously. Just try it.

6. Focus on what you love about your story.

We live in a pretty critical world and it’s so easy to focus on what’s wrong. It’s much harder to focus on what you like. (Just think how easy it is to list five things you don’t like about your appearance. Now list five things you love. How did you do?) As hard as it is, make a list of what you love about your story, the things that fascinate you, the reasons you started writing it in the first place, and then refer back to it often.

Now, go get your laptop back out of the garbage and get back to writing. Best of luck to you!

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Jenilyn Collings loves to read and write things that are humorous or romantic (preferably both). She has worked as a dental researcher, a florist, a martial arts instructor, and a tracker at an alternative high school (she’ll leave it to your imagination what that entailed), but she’s now focused on writing and child wrangling. A long time resident of the Mountain West, she recently moved to New England with her family where she is gaining an appreciation for umbrellas, fall colors, and turning lanes while driving.